Interview is a series of discussions with renowned Pennsylvanians - artists, athletes, authors, historians, musicians, politicians, scholars, television celebrities and others - that have appeared occasionally as features in Pennsylvania Heritage.

The late afternoon sun streams brightly through large windows, belying the simple fact that it is mid-February. Outside, down below, on the streets in this concrete canyon known as New York City, traffic roars, searing the frosty air with the screams of wailing sirens, the staccato of blaring taxi cab horns, and the shouts of frenzied (if not frightened) pedestrians. The din is deafening. Inside this elegant Manhattan apartment, though, all is still – except for the recollections of two women, one beautiful, the other handsome, whose lives are inextricably bound together, and tied to Broadway legends and, incredulous as it may seem, Bucks County, Pennsylvania. With every word, every phrase, the air grows electric. Their reminiscences of life more than a half­-century ago – and seemingly a world away from the magic of the Great White Way­ – amaze and amuse.

These are two women of the American theater. One is the widow of a famous playwright. The other is a daughter of his collaborator, a world-renowned writer whose name is known throughout the world for his wit and genius.

Kitty Carlisle Hart. born Catherine Conn in 1914 to Joseph and Hortense Holtzman Conn, was married to one of Broadway’s boy wonders. Moss Hart (1904-1961), who, with his partner George S. Kaufman (1889-1961), won a Pulitzer Prize in 1937. Anne Kaufman Schneider is the daughter of the playwright and his wife Beatrice, both early members of the Algonquin Hotel’s celebrated Round Table, a group of literary wits who lunched together that included Robert Benchley, Dorothy Parker, and Harold Ross. Together, Hart and Kaufman wrote eight comedies.

Moss Hart, known as a stage director as well as a playwright, was raised in a poor section of the Bronx, but he enjoyed telling people he was born on New York’s fabled Fifth Avenue, quickly adding “at the wrong end.” His career in the theater began as an office boy in a New York agency, and he later eked out a livelihood by directing amateur productions and musicals in the “Borscht Belt” summer camps and resorts of New York’s Catskill Mountains, which catered primarily to Jewish vacationers. He was determined to be a playwright. and he relentlessly pursued – some say pestered – Broadway producers with his scripts until one of his draft comedies led to work with George S. Kaufman. Their first collaboration was Once in a Lifetime (1930), which enjoyed a run of four hundred and one performances at Broadway’s Music Box Theatre, surpassing all of Kaufman’s earlier successes.

The celebrated team of Kaufman and Hart’s Broadway productions included two of the greatest hits of any era, You Can’t Take It With You (1936) and The Man Who Came to Dinner (1939). Their other works were Merrily We Roll Along (1934), I’d Rather Be Right (1937), The Fabulous Invalid (1938), and George Washington Slept Here (1940), Even though they remained good friends, Hart did not collaborate with Kaufman after 1940 in order to prove that he could succeed on his own. Hart’s most noteworthy solo works were Lady in the Dark (1941) and Light Up the Sky (1948), which turned out to be the biggest hit on Broadway the following year. A brilliant stage director, he won a Tony Award for My Fair Lady (1956), starring Julie Andrews and Rex Harrison. He directed Richard Burton, Robert Goulet, and Andrews in Camelot (1960). His film credits included the screenplays for Academy Award-winning Gentlemen’s Agreement, starring Gregory Peck, and the 1954 version of A Star is Born, starring Judy Garland. Act One (1959), Hart’s spellbinding autobiography in which he tells of his meteoric success, is consid­ered to be among the best theater memoirs ever written.

George S. Kaufman, a native Pennsyl­vanian, was born in Pittsburgh’s Hill District, and graduated from the city’s Fifth Avenue High School. He moved to New York to pursue a career in journalism, eventually landing at the drama desk of The New York Times in 1917. As a drama critic he was influential in raising the standards of criticism in the theater. Even though he enjoyed a string of Broadway successes during the twenties, he remained at The New York Times until 1930, the year he first collaborated with Hart. His record of Broadway success stands without equal; he was perhaps the greatest figure of Broadway’s greatest era. Kaufman collaborated on more than forty plays, many of them tremendously successful, which varied in mood from the rowdy farces of his early days to his later, more sophisticated come­dies. Two of his works won Pulitzer Prizes.

Because nearly all of his plays and musicals were written with co-authors, he was known as The Great Collaborator. With Marc Connelly, he wrote Dulcy (1921), Merton of the Movies (1922) and Beggar on Horseback (1924); with Edna Ferber, The Royal Family (1927), Dinner at Eight (1932), and Stage Door (1936); and with Morrie Ryskind and George and Ira Gershwin, Strike Up the Band (1930) and Of Thee I Sing (1931), the first musical to win a Pulitzer Prize. Other smash hits included June Moon (1929), with Ring Lardner, The Solid Gold Cadillac (1953), with Howard Teichmann, and Silk Stockings (1955), with Cole Porter, Abe Burrows, and Kaufman’s second wife, Leueen McGrath. He directed several immensely successful plays, including The Front Page (1928) and Guys and Dolls (1950), for which he won a Tony Award. He staged all eight plays he and Hart wrote.

David Leopold. a historian specializing in the performing arts, says that for more than three dazzling decades, beginning in the early 1930s, Bucks County served as the country place for Broadway legends. Leopold, who possesses intimate knowl­edge of the American theater and its luminaries, has served as guest curator for a number of museum installations and exhibitions, including “Creative Bucks County: A Celebration of Art and Artists” at the James A. Michener Art Museum in Doylestown. He contends that the area was not a retreat or resort in the strictest sense. “Bucks County was a haven for the bright lights of Broadway, but they contin­ued working hard when they spent time at their farms or estates. Bucks County was becoming an alternative to Connecticut.”

According to Leopold, both theater and local historians trace the beginning of Broadway’s fascination with Bucks County to Nathanael West (1903-1940), who wrote The Dream Life of Balso Snell and The Day of the Locust. West’s works garnered critical acclaim, but failed to meet with public success, which prompted him to call an eighty-three-acre farm near Erwinna, which he had purchased with humorist S. J. Perelman (1904-1979), “Eight Ball Farm.” West’s sister Laura was married to Perelman, the creator of outstanding – and outrageous – fantasies carrying such memorable titles as “Boy Meets Girl Meets Foot” and “Farewell, My Lovely Appetizer.” He was a gifted satirist. and for more than forty years his short pieces appeared in The New Yorker. Perelman wrote more than twenty books, including Acres and Pains (1947), in which he described a farm as “an irregular patch of nettles, bounded by short-term notes, containing a fool and his wife who didn’t know enough to stay in the city.” In 1956, he won an Oscar for his screenplay of Around the World in Eighty Days. Five years later, his play entitled The Beauty Part had its tryout at the Bucks County Playhouse in New Hope.

Perelman loved the beauty of Bucks County, but he also enjoyed poking fun at the trials of country life. An extraordinarily private and reclusive individual, he did not socialize with his Bucks County neighbors, except Dorothy Parker (1893-1967). of whom he was quite fond. After his wife Laura died in 1970, Perelman sold Eight Ball Farm, moved to England, and then returned to New York. It was a decision he forever regretted, and one that he lament­ed eloquently in “A Farewell to Bucks,” which appeared in The New York Times.

One of the most talked about women of her day, Dorothy Parker and her husband, writer and actor Alan Campbell (1904-1963), bought the one hundred-­and-eleven-acre Fox House Farm near Pipersville in 1936 for less than five thousand dollars. It was nothing less than a disaster; in addition to being abused by squatters, the first floor of the house was covered with chicken carcasses. Hailed as the reigning queen of the Algonquin Round Table, Parker was known for her wicked barbs and puns, earning for her and her tablemates the moniker “The Vicious Circle.” By the time Parker undertook the renovation of the dilapidated farmstead, she had given up her literary career and she and Campbell were working as highly paid screenwriters for Hollywood. While living in Bucks County, Parker and Campbell received screen credits for more than a dozen films, among them A Star is Born, Sweethearts, Weekend for Three, and The Little Foxes. They wrote to raise money – nearly one hundred thousand dollars – to repair and decorate Fox House Farm, where they lived until 1947. The resulting interior decoration was as unconventional as Dorothy Parker herself: the living room alone was painted in nine shades of red.

Many famous literary figures owned country houses in Bucks County during the heady thirties, forties, and fifties, prompt­ing New York newspaper reporters and radio personalities to christen the region “The Genius Belt.” Novelist James Gould Cozzens and his wife, literary agent Sylvia Baumgarten, acquired a farm across the Delaware River from New Hope, at Lambertville, New Jersey, in 1933. Cozzens’s Guard of Honor, his eleventh book of fiction, won a Pulitzer Prize in 1948. Fellow novelist Budd Schulberg, noted also for his short stories, often wrote in a small stone house that had originally served as a springhouse or root cellar on his farm near New Hope. Schulberg is best remembered for What Makes Sammy Run? (1941), The Harder They Fall (1947), and On the Waterfront (1954). Arthur Koestler, who in the thirties lived near New Hope – on an island in the Delaware River – published his nationally acclaimed novel Darkness at Noon in 1941. And there were many others.

New Hope resident Jerome Chodorov co-authored, with Joseph A. Fields, My Sister Eileen. directed on Broadway in 1940 by none other than George S. Kaufman. Fields and Chodorov also wrote Wonderful Town, for which they won a Tony Award in 1953, and The Ponder Heart, which opened three years later. Augustus and Ruth Goetz wrote The Heiress, which enjoyed a Broadway run of more than four hundred performances in 1947. Bucks County’s husband-and-wife team of writers, Samuel Spewack (1899-1971) and Bella Cohen Spewack (1899-1990), created a string of Broad­way comedies, including Clear All Wires! (which re-emerged six years later as Leave It to Me!, a musical with a score by Cole Porter), Boy Meets Girl, and Kiss Me, Kate, which garnered a Tony. After enduring nearly a decade without a Broadway or Hollywood hit, Oscar Hammerstein II turned his sights to Bucks County, where he and his wife Dorothy often visited friends. In autumn 1940, they found a place near Doylestown, a forty­-acre spread they christened Highland Farms. The following year his lyrics for The Last Time I Saw Paris, with music by Jerome Kern, claimed an Oscar for Hammerstein. With Richard Rodgers, Hammerstein next wrote the book and lyrics for Oklahoma! Seeing cows graze the Bucks County hillside inspired Hammer­stein to write the famous opening number, “Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin’.” The Hammersteins welcomed countless colleagues and friends from the world of theater to Highland Farms, including Joshua Logan, Mary Martin, Henry Fonda, and Stephen Sondheim. (“Hammerstein taught me everything I know about the theater and songs,” said Sondheim.) Oscar Hammerstein II died in Bucks County in 1959, not long after he and Rodgers finished their last collaboration, The Sound of Music.

Both Kaufman and Hart delighted in their country houses. Kaufman lavished one hundred thousand dollars-on the heels of the Great Depression-to refurbish his fieldstone manor house, capped by a distinctive mansard roof. In a piece appearing in The New Yorker, he wrote, “I like Bucks County, and when I depart for the farm, I am in a gay and emancipated mood, eager for a holiday and the wide countryside.” Hart shared his collaborator’s sentiments, playfully describing his eighty-seven-acre spread, which he kept until 1954, as “my Pennsyl­vania extravagance, my appalling little dream-farm, my beautiful white elephant.”

This interview with Kitty Carlisle Hart (KCH) and Ann Kaufman Schneider (AKS) was conducted in Mrs. Hart’s apartment in New York’s upper east sixties on Wednes­day, February 10, 1999.

 

The story of Bucks County and its famous residents – Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman among them – is fascinating. Did you ever think that you’d be not only witnessing history, but playing a part in it?

KCH: Not really. Not me. I was an actress, and my husband was a play­wright and director. He wrote plays and we acted. It just seemed to be part of our daily Lives. One incident that I remeo,ber particularly well happened at the Bucks County Playhouse in New Hope during the summer of 1948. I was doing a week of O Mistress Mine, an English play that Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne had done two years earlier. I was playing the lead, and Moss insisted that I present our son Christopher, in my arms, to the audience. Moss loved making up traditions, and he said this was an English tradition but that we were going to make it our own. “At the end of the play,” he said, “I want you to present Christopher to the public.” He actually wrote a little speech for me. All I can tell you is that the public was slightly bemused – and also amused.

I have a picture of me holding baby Christopher in my arms, in front of the audience at the Playhouse. That’s the only souvenir that I have of anything “historic.”

Another “historic” event occurred in Bucks County when Moss and I played The Man Who Came to Dinner. We had just been married and we did it for our honeymoon. That’s when he insisted on another tradition.

“It’s a good thing for us to share a dressing room,” he said. “We’ve just been married. It would be so romantic.” Well, I threw him out after two days. He made such a fuss over getting his beard on. He was playing Sheridan Whiteside in The Man Who Came to Dinner and he had to wear a beard, and it was just too much. He was so bad tempered that I turned him out.

Moss Hart had an appreciation of tradition?

KCH: Oh, yes, he did. Moss had a sense of history. He also had a sense of drama, he was very dramatic. He didn’t limit his flair to the theater, either. When we went to a restaurant, Moss just didn’t walk in – he made an entrance, and all heads turned. He would drape his overcoat over his shoulders like a cloak or a cape, and he looked every bit the part of a great actor.

Do you recall what attracted Broadway to Bucks County?

AKS: Nathanael West had an awful lot to with it. He spent a couple of weeks across the Delaware River at Frenchtown finishing his novel, Miss Lonelyhearts. He convinced his brother-in-law, S. J. Perel­man, to look at a farm up for sale about a mile from Erwinna. They came up with enough money to buy the place, which was nothing more than ramshackle. He turned a small building into a studio for writing. That’s where he wrote A Cool Million in 1934. West wasn’t a great commer­cial success, but my father had great faith in him. My father wasn’t a great friend of the Perelmans, but he believed he had great promise.

The Kaufmans were among the earliest Broadway expatriates. Who – or what – ­led them to Bucks County?

AKS: What really took my parents there was that my mother, Beatrice, had a childhood friend, a best friend, named Dorothy Pratt. Mother and Dorothy both got kicked out of school at the end of their first year. Dorothy was married to Richard Pratt, who was very involved with architec­tural preservation in Bucks County and then in Philadelphia. For a long time he had a very fancy job with the Ladies Home Journal – he was the architectural editor. The Pratts had a house in Frenchtown and that’s why Dorothy Pratt encour­aged my mother. “It’s great out here and it’s nice and you should come and look,” she said. I think that was in about 1935, very soon after my father had a fairly nasty, well-publicized affair with Mary Astor, and I think my mother really wanted to use that time to put down some roots. We had never owned a house anywhere. I’m sure it was Dorothy Pratt who convinced her to come, and they bought the house.

Dick Pratt was interesting. He wrote a book on historic houses, A Treasury of Early American Homes. He and Dorothy had worked together on guides to historic houses. They lived on a farm in Bucks County, and they developed architectural and landscaping ideas for the Journal. Dorothy put my mother on to Pennsylvania Dutch antiques and art, and American furniture. The Pratts had done quite a bit of searching for antiques in Pennsylvania, particularly for Gaudy Dutch and Gaudy Welsh, and they bought a lot. And then mother steered Moss in collecting antiques for his house in Bucks County.

A little while later, in 1936, my mother and father bought a stone farmhouse in Holicong for forty-five thousand dollars from Juliana Force. She was the director of the Whitney Museum in New York. She discovered Bucks County before World War I while she was collecting art.

Isn’t it true that your parents enter­tained the great names in theater?

AKS: Every weekend brought a new and changing stream of famous people to Bucks County. My father was shy and nervous – very reserved – but he was quite hospitable. My parents entertained Lillian Hellman, the playwright, when she wasn’t staying with the Perelmans. There were so many others – Edna Ferber, of course, with whom my father wrote The Royal Family, and Richard Rodgers, the composer. Harpo Marx was another guest. There were so many theater celebrities.

Was there interaction between the writers and the artists who made famous the New Hope school of impressionism?

KCH: No, each circle was vastly different. The painters stayed with the painters, and the theater people stayed with their own.

AKS: The theater people – the writers the directors, the lyricists, the actors, and the producers – congregated around our house. And Moss’s. They also spent time with Jerry and Rhea Chodorov. From Friday through Sunday, it was nonstop. If it was dinner at our house on Saturday, it would be dinner at Moss’s, or with the Chodorovs, on Sunday, and so forth. The next weekend it would begin all over again.

With the seemingly endless rounds of house parties, did the writers – specifi­cally Kaufman and Hart – accomplish much?

AKS: Oh, yes. Absolutely! They worked all the time. Whatever shenani­gans and high jinx went on, they went on usually during the weekends. There were many, many visitors and house­guests, but my father was devoted to his work.

KCH: Moss and George worked very hard, writing play after play after play. They were brilliant together.

AKS: I don’t think either Moss or my father got up terribly early, but when my father went to the typewriter, that was it. I mean there wasn’t even any eating. Moss wrote about that in Act One when he was a young man and hungry. He wasn’t allowed to eat anywhere in the house, and it never occurred to my father to ask, “Would you like a chicken sandwich?,” or “Would you like to go out to lunch?” My father didn’t eat much and when he worked, he worked exceptional­ly hard. Both worked with great concentration. They wrote eight plays together during a ten-year period. That’s dedication – and fervor.

In many ways, wasn’t the established George S. Kaufman a mentor to the young Moss Hart?

KCH: It seemed George was always at Moss. He said to him when he was directing a lot – Moss later directed My Fair Lady and Camelot – that he was squandering his talent. George would complain to me, saying “You know, Moss is wasting the great years of his life. He should be writing, not directing plays.”

George cared a great deal about Moss, his career, his work, and his writing. He was fifteen years older than Moss, and he was already established. When Moss came along, George really took a great interest in him and his work. He was very fond of him. Moss and George became exceptionally close. George was so proud of him – they were almost like a father and son.

One of their great plays, The Man Who Came to Dinner, was based on an experience in Bucks County. Can you tell us something about this collaboration?

KCH: The best place to begin is with Moss’s guest book, which is on exhibit at the Michener Museum in Doylestown. In it, Alexander Woolcott wrote “This is to certify that I had one of the most unpleas­ant times I ever spent.” Moss couldn’t wait to tell George. He said it would “have been awful if he had broken a leg and been on my hands for the rest of the summer.”

AKS: That was really how they got the idea for The Man Who Came to Dinner. Our house, which my father called Cherchez la Farm, was literally bulging at the seams with guests, and Moss was asked to put up Woolcott. It was a dreadful night for poor Moss. Woolcott chased away the producer Max Gordon, who was another of Moss’s guests. Then he demanded Moss’s own bedroom.

Moss was telling my father the horror story when they both stopped and looked at each other. It was as if lightning struck. The Man Who Came to Dinner was born. And they began to work on it almost immediately.

Alexander Woolcott emerged in the play as the central character, Sheridan Whiteside, an acerbic and annoying radio celebrity and critic. The character was pompous and bombastic and venomous and irascible. Very, very Woolcott.

My father and Moss dedicated the play to Alexander Woolcott. He was delighted to be the model for a smash hit. The Man Who Came to Dinner opened in 1939 at the Music Box Theater and ran for seven hundred and thirty-nine perfor­mances before it closed in 1941. Most people remember Woolcott today for being the inspiration for Whiteside, and not as a writer and critic.

KCH: I played Maggie, the secretary, in The Man Who Came to Dinner for the first time, in summer stock, in 1946. Moss and I had begun talking about our wedding plans. I had suggested a large room in a hotel, but Moss wouldn’t budge. He wanted us to be married quietly in New Hope. He said my mother and Ed Otterbourg – who was mother’s constant companion for thirty years, until she died – could come down for the weekend, and we’ll have George and his house­guests for a wedding supper. I remember him adding, “And for our honeymoon, we can star together in The Man Who Came to Dinner right here at the Bucks County Playhouse.”

Moss was determined to keep the wedding secret. Jerry and Rhea Chodorov, who had a house nearby, came to dinner the evening before the ceremony. We turned on the radio to hear the news at seven o’clock, and what we heard first was “The Wedding March.” Then came the announcement that the Prince of Broadway, Moss Hart, was marrying Kitty Carlisle. That dashed Moss’s hope for a quiet wedding.

The wedding ceremony took place in Pennsylvania?

KCH: Moss and I were married on Saturday, August 10, 1946, in New Hope by a justice of the peace. On the morning of the ceremony, the place was stormed by photographers and the press. I looked out of the window to see Moss nervously gazing up to my window, as if wondering what was keeping me. I had decided to wear a red and white Valentina print dress and a big red straw hat that I had worn in the Bucks County Playhouse production of Tonight or Never. The hat had been stored on a shelf in my dressing room at the Playhouse, which had been an old gristmill, and the field mice had nibbled at its brim. On the morning of our wedding I was in my bedroom, busily repair­ing that hat.

What are recollections of your wedding day?

KCH: I distinctly remember the photogra­phers. They followed us everywhere. They followed us to the justice of the peace. They all sat around the yard. I don’t know what they were waiting for. The ceremo­ny was very short and the audience very small. It was mother; her friend, Ed Otterbourg; Joe Hyman, Moss’s dear friend and producer; and Moss’s brother Bernie, whom he adored.

After the ceremony in New Hope we drove back to the farm. We sat in silence in the living room­ – everyone no doubt thinking about the momentous event – when mother broke the quiet. “Now, Moss,” she asked, “about the billing in The Man Who Came to Dinner – Kitty’s name goes first?”

Our wedding supper went as planned. I had my wedding party with all the guests from George and Beatrice Kauf­man’s house. They brought Leonora Corbett, who was the star of a musical, Park Avenue, that George was writing with Arthur Schwartz and Ira Gershwin.

The notion of doing a play for a honeymoon may not be traditional, but I was captivated by the idea. Moss was always welcome at the Bucks County Playhouse – he could fill the entire theater. He was a wonderful actor, and I learned a great deal about acting from him.

What are your memories of the Bucks County Playhouse?

AKS: The Playhouse was star-studded. Summer stock – what we used to call “straw hat theaters” – was a dream of St. John Terrell – he was a struggling young actor and producer in his twenties – and he and Kenyon Nicholson, the playwright, took their idea for a theater to investors interested in the old gristmill in New Hope in the fall of 1938. They broke ground the following March, and the theater opened that July. People were lined up in the streets of New Hope trying to get tickets and trying to get in to see the stars. It was the biggest thing that ever happened in New Hope up until that time. On opening night there was my mother and father, Moss, Burgess Mered­ith, Richard Bennett, and Florence McGee. Even Al Hirschfeld [a theater caricaturist] came in from New York to capture the event in a cartoon. The first season was a success, but Terrell left after a year. Those early days were marvelous.

Did the local residents ever realize that such famous talents lived among them?

AKS: Probably not. We pretty much kept among ourselves and our company.

KCH: I don’t think so. No one from outside our circle was invited over to the house. They probably would have said, “Here’s all these crazy writers. What do we need with them?”

Moss Hart threw himself into writing­ – and decorating your Bucks County home?

KCH: Moss’s place was charming. It was called Fairview Farm. It was basically an eighteenth-century farmhouse in the middle of a cornfield. There wasn’t a tree or a shrub around the house when he bought it in the mid-thirties. And, oh, Moss was so impatient. A most impatient man. Before long he planted two thou­sand mature pine trees. George came over to see what Moss was doing with the place. He looked around, saw Moss’s new forest, and said, “Well, Moss, it’s exactly what God would have done if he’d had the money!”

One day I looked out of my bedroom window and saw two enormous trucks filled with trees that had been balled with burlap. The trucks were lumbering across the lawn from opposite sides. I called for Moss and asked what was happening. “I didn’t like the placement of those trees,” he said, “so I’m moving these over there and those over here.” In addition to being an impatient individual, he was also a perfectionist. His taste was impeccable.

What do you remember about Fairview Farm?

KCH: In my autobiography, I described it as “a very large establishment, a bit rich for a man who relied on playwriting for his income.” There were five servants at the farm, and two men who took care of the grounds.

There was an apple orchard, and Moss – I remember well – brought in a half-dozen sheep to crop the grass around the trees. A brilliant idea – but it failed miserably. The sheep refused to have anything whatsoever to do with the orchard. I was constantly getting tele­phone calls to bring the station wagon to retrieve them from a neighbor’s lawn.

Despite his creative endeavors, he found time to take a genuine interest in the property?

KCH: Moss added a swimming pool, a tennis court, and what he called the Gertrude Lawrence Memorial Wing, after the phenomenal success of Lady in the Dark. Gertrude Lawrence starred as Liza Elliot in the Broadway production and then on national tour. Lady in the Dark was a musical play about psychoanalysis written by Moss, with music by Kurt Weill, and lyrics by Ira Gershwin. The Gertrude Lawrence Memorial Wing had a huge playroom, a study for Moss, and four double guestrooms.

He collected all the furniture and antiques for the farm by himself. He put together a first-rate collection of spatter­ware and early glass. There was a rich assortment of guns, artifacts, anvils, china, kettles, and ladles by the huge fireplace. The living room was very, very comfort­able, with overstuffed sofas and chairs upholstered in chintz.

When Moss was busy writing at the farm, he worked in full view on the lawn – not with his back to the house but facing it, so anyone who went by could be summoned. Company – and not soli­tude – was what he wanted.

Kaufman and Hart also set George Washington Slept Here in Bucks County?

AKS: Moss really got a lot of coverage just out of buying the farm. George Washington Slept Here was the last play he and my father wrote together. It was a hit on Broadway in 1940. It’s hilarious. It’s a comedy about a family from the city who attempts to restore a run-down farm in Bucks County.

Both playwrights were avid croquet players?

KCH: Oh, yes! I only played when they were stuck for four because I wasn’t very good. But the butler – our butler, Charles – was wonderful and he always played with the guests. They would play with Charles in the daytime and they would see him again at dinner, and they’d be rather confused, thinking, “We’ve seen that man before.”

AKS: George was the best player – the best by a long shot. Moss was good. Jerry Chodorov played well.

KCH: Jerry was very bad tempered, and Moss apparently was very bad tempered. Moss went out to California to represent the East Coast in a reciprocal tournament. There was a great rivalry between the East Coast and the West Coast. And he and Darryl Zanuck [producer and co­-founder of Twentieth Century Fox Studio] were going at it in Palm Springs, where Darryl had a beautiful place. We were staying with Darryl and his wife Virginia. All of a sudden, I hear the maids running into the house, screaming “Mrs. Zanuck! Mrs. Hart! Please! Please! Come quickly! They’re going to kill each other.” Virginia and I discovered Moss and Darryl with their mallets poised over each other’s head, about to murder one another.

Croquet was a big part of our lives. At Fairview Farm, Moss played on the back lawn. He said croquet had to be played with bitterness and passion. He was inducted into the United States Croquet Hall of Fame in 1979.

AKS: My father was mad about croquet. The matches at our house in Bucks County were legendary – outra­geous, really – with the players a real “who’s who” in the theater. He asked me to come back from my honeymoon to play. He called me up the day after I was married and said, “Come on, I need a fourth. You have to come back and play.” So, being a good daughter, I came back and played. I was a very good player, too. Mother was a good player.

Beatrice Kaufman played an important role in both George’s and Moss’s lives.

AKS: My mother, Beatrice Bakrow, who was my father’s first wife, was a very interesting individual – if she were alive now, she’d fit in absolutely perfectly. She was an independent sort of woman. She worked, she worked hard. I think she worked in the early days because my parents might have needed the money, but later she worked because she really was industrious – she didn’t want to sit at home all day.

By the time they had money, we also acquired servants. It was all very different then. There were lots of servants around, so my mother didn’t have to stay home and do anything. She worked for a publishing house before I came along, and then she worked as an editor for Harper’s Bazaar. She was the first fiction editor when Harper’s Bazaar decided to run not just fashion pieces, but stories and articles. She was a story editor, the East Coast story editor, for Samuel Goldwyn in Hollywood. She and Joseph Hennessey edited The Letters of Alexander Woolcott for Viking Press. It’s important that people know about her.

Mother was smart, very smart. She was also quite forbidding – she had a head like a lion’s, really rather good looking, with beautiful gray hair. She was very forthright and very modern, probably more modern than most people were in those days, and she was involved. She became involved in Jewish causes that I don’t think my father had much interest in, and she got very involved at the beginning of World War II, helping to bring refugees over. My mother, in general, was much more interested in causes than my father. He was more interested in writing and casting and directing.

Grandpa’s Other Snake was what my father originally wanted to call You Can’t Take it With You, but it was my mother who said, “No, no, no. You’ve got to think of something else.” I don’t think she thought of the new title, but she knew that the word “snake” wasn’t about to get too many people into the theater.

Mother wrote two plays herself, both failures. Dame Judith Anderson was in the first one, with Jimmy Stewart and Hedda Hopper, who used to be an actress. It was called Divided by Three, and I remember I wasn’t permitted to see it because Jimmy Stewart played a character who was having an affair with a woman who was not his wife. After the play closed, Stewart moved on to Hollywood.

KCH: I met the legendary Beatrice Kaufman only once, but I was very impressed. It was Beatrice who took Moss in hand when he began to collabo­rate with George. She taught Moss the joys of antiquing and decorating. She was warm and friendly and engaging – the center of the group.

What would you want the world to know about Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman?

KCH: I would want the world to know that they not only were very close, but they loved working together, that they loved their work, that they loved. the theater as an institution, and that they were very successful at what they wanted to do most. I’m not sure if they even wanted to do anything else.

What I would like the world to also know is that I think I was married to a genius, and everything that helped him in his work was fine with me. I had a wonderful life with him. I admired him. I trusted him. He trusted me. We had two wonderful kids.

George was scary. Like everyone else, I had a healthy respect for him and I wanted to make a good impression. You minded your manners around George, and you watched what you said. You tried not to be trivial because he would nail you. He had. an instinct to go right to the jugular when you would be silly or trivial, so you had to be careful around him. People were always mindful of what they said to him and in front of him. He was so quick and so witty. He turned out to be a wonderful friend, and we really loved one another. We eventually became truly affectionate com­panions.

AKS: My father and Moss had wonderful years together. When my father was at the theater during rehearsals, he used to pace up and down, back and forth, in the back of the orchestra floor. He wasn’t looking at the actors, he was listening to them, and always thinking. It’s the way the words sounded that he really cared about. If somebody took too long, he’d gently give them advice. There are all kinds of famous stories about his approach.

There’s one story about an actor-he shall remain nameless-who was very young when he was doing a play written by my father. The young man was taking a terrifically long pause and then going on with the sentence. My father went up on the stage – he had impeccable man­ners – and would have never said anything Like, “Yeah, cut that.” Never. First of all, he would have addressed him as “Mister,” no matter what his age. Well, he walked over to this actor and asked, very quietly, so the other actors couldn’t hear what he was saying, “Tell me, Mr. O’Malley, why are you taking a big pause right there, in the middle of that sen­tence.” The terrified actor replied, “Oh, Mr. Kaufman, between the first part of the sentence and the second part, there are eight stops.” My father simply said, “Please cut it down to three.” He wasn’t a dictator like you would think of today’s directors. Not at all.

KCH: Neither was Moss. They both had the same directing style, which Moss actually got from George. They didn’t embarrass anybody.

I did a play with Moss directing, but I never had any direction because he was always busy directing the other actors. Just ten days before the opening I said to him, “You know, Moss, I never did get any direction from you for this play.” He was shaving, I remember, and I walked into the bathroom and stood there talking to him, and I said, “I’ll tell you what. I have no false pride about this. You read my part and I’ll copy you because we don’t have time for all that germinating and the lady coming alive inside you and all that stuff.” Well, I copied what he said, and I got very good notices.

Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman were both recognized as talented directors.

KCH: I saw how talented Moss really was when he was directing My Fair Lady. Julie Andrews wasn’t very good in the beginning, and Moss had asked me one day going up to the theater in the car – he always wanted me to come to rehearsals-“She’s not very good, is she?” And I said, “No, she’s not good. Not at all.” Moss turned to me and said, “You know, if I were [the irrepressible impre­sario] David Belasco, I’d take her to a hotel suite. I’d lock the doors, order us room service, and I”d paste the part on her. Moss swore I said, “Why don’t you do it?” But T know I didn’t. He didn’t take her to a hotel but dismissed the company for forty-eight hours and worked alone with Julie at the theater. I could hear his voice in every line she spoke for the first two weeks. Anyway, Moss was a good director and so was George.

AKS: My father directed John Stein­beck’s Of Mice and Men – for which he received no credit. Steinbeck came to Bucks County in 1937 so my father could adapt the novel for the stage. Steinbeck did later call him “Broadway’s greatest director.” My father also directed the first production of Guys and Dolls. One of his earliest productions was The Front Page, in the late twenties.

Changes in the theater over the years must seem enormous.

KCH: It was Moss who said to Jerry Chodorov, “I’ll bet someday someone on this stage is going to say ‘shit.'” If they could only hear the plays today.

AKS: An actor couldn’t say a four­-letter word, and it’s just incredible what you hear now. It’s so poor of the writers today. Nobody’s being literate.

The two of you enjoy a very special friendship.

KCH: I couldn’t be without her.

AKS: I couldn’t be without her.

We’re just like an extension of Kaufman and Hart.

In some curious ways, our personali­ties are extensions of Moss and my father. Kitty is outgoing and nice and beautiful and charming, and I’m rather sort of dour, gruff, with the voice of a lion. And we’re both keepers of the flame for Kaufman and Hart.

KCH: Anne has George’s wit and she’s extremely reliable. She’s a wonderful friend, and it’s made all the difference in my life.

AKS: And mine. And we do behave like Kaufman and Hart, so the great play­wrights live on – and off the stage, too.

 

For Further Reading

Bush, George S., ed. The Genius Belt: The Story of the Arts in Bucks County, Pennsyl­vania. Doylestown, Pa.: James A. Mich­ener Art Museum, 1996.

Herrmann, Dorothy. S.J. Perelman: A Life. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1986.

Hart, Kitty Carlisle. Kitty: An Autobiogra­phy. New York: Doubleday, 1988.

Hart, Moss. Act One. New York: Random House, 1959.

Meredith, Scott. George Kaufman and His Friends. Garden City, N. Y.: Doubleday, 1974.

Teichmann, Howard. George S. Kaufman: An Intimate Portrait. New York: Atheneum, 1972.

 

The author gratefully acknowledges the invaluable assistance of David Leopold, a his­torian interested in the history of the theater and director of The Studio of Ben Solowey in Bedminster, Bucks County, who provided research material for this piece and arranged this interview. He is also indebted to Linda A. Milanesi, director of public relations for the James A. Michener Art Museum, Doyles­town, who supplied background information. The author also thanks Vincent Cianni, of New York, whose original photographs illus­trate this article.

 

Michael J. O’Malley III is editor of Pennsyl­vania Heritage. His interview with another Bucks County resident, a world-famous famous writer, entitled “You Can Go Home Again: An Interview with James A Michen­er,” appeared in the Winter 1993 edition.